We’ve all seen it before. Your neighbors’ son won’t move out of their basement. He hasn’t gotten a job or registered for college since graduating high school some years back — practically wasting his life away at his parents’ expense. We usually use the term “enabling” to describe parents — the ones who enable their sons or daughters to continue on in life without growing up, taking responsibility or really progressing in any significant way.
Well, it’s always easier to notice someone else’s problems while ignoring our own. In fact, I caught myself enabling my daughter last week. She is in preschool, and yet I still treat her like she can barely talk or understand simple requests. Instead of asking her to take care of things, I find myself implementing a pattern I’ve set since she was a baby: I find it easier and quicker to take care of everything myself.
And that’s what your neighbors with the man-child in their basement would say if you asked them why their son can’t do anything. After 20 years of treating him like a baby, he is — unsurprisingly — still a baby.
Here are three of the most common ways you could be enabling your children. Can you catch yourself doing these and switch to healthier patterns?
1. You clean up after them
My daughter had just dumped a bowl of Cadbury chocolate eggs onto the living room rug. I stooped over to start picking them up when I remembered that she’s more than capable enough to do that herself. Some people won’t agree with me that picking up after a preschooler is enabling, but if I completely assume responsibility for her actions, I am enabling her. I asked her to pick the eggs up, and she just started doing it. Sure, she eventually asked for help, but that was only after she realized how long it took to clean up 40 little candy eggs. Big difference. In the first scenario, I wanted to do all the work. In the second, my daughter asked for help completing a task. Added bonus: no more egg-spilling games.
2. You feed them correct answers
I once made a woman very angry when I gave her child a tip for solving a math problem. You see, the tip was so obvious, the boy didn’t have to think anymore. That’s what made his mother so mad. When we feed answers to our children or give them “hints” that are basically answers, our kids miss out on the most important aspect of learning: critical thinking. In my limited experience, the Socratic method seems to work best. If your child asks you a question from his homework, ask him questions in response — questions that will help him think about the problem differently and come to a conclusion on his own. This builds confidence. Feeding him answers builds dependence.
3. You pay for everything
Money is always a sensitive topic, but you should not pay for everything in your child’s life. As they grow up, kids get involved in more activities and social events, costing more and more. But like the egg situation above, your kid may be old enough to start earning money and paying for those expenses. Lemonade stands, newspaper routes, fundraisers, babysitting and mowing lawns are just some of the jobs young kids can take on. Once they start working and paying for things, kids can understand the value of working, budgeting and saving — but until you stop paying for everything, those are just hypothetical “grown-up terms.”
There are many other ways we enable our children, but these points are easy places to start making changes. Remember, it may be hard for your child to stop depending on you for everything, but that’s actually the goal. In the end, he has to take care of himself.